Fight Them On The Beaches
Surfing leaders call on the international surfing community to get wise, and stand up to coastal development.
It’s a worldwide epidemic for our coastlines. Developers, in their bid to capitalise on booming seaside property prices, with Bells Beach being the latest in a long list of targets, have declared war on surfing. But as we've seen in 2016, there's power in community and petition.
“The global surfing community and coastal culture have been under pressure for the last few decades,” iconic Indigenous Australian surfer, shaper, and Bells Beach local, Maurice Cole, told Stab. “Property values have skyrocketed, which means developers are carving up the coast and issues such as access, run-offs, overcrowding, overdevelopment [are] currently occurring everywhere there is a coast."
Earlier this month wealthy landowners with rights to the parcel of land closest to the Bells Beach headland were granted permission to build tourist accommodation on their property. The plans, which will expand the property by 264 square meters to add lodging for four people, along with construction of another four bedroom house for the owners, were rejected by the Surf Coast Shire Council following a significant community backlash (an online petition against the project was signed by 33,000 people).
So instead the landowners went over the heads of the community to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which set aside the council’s decision in December clearing the way for the first ever tourism development in the area. According to critics such as Surf Coast Shire Mayor, Brian Mckiterick and Maurice Cole, the decision sets an alluring and dangerous precedent for future development in the area. It's also coming hot on the heels of the $1 billion Spring Creek development in nearby Torquay, which is set to deliver thousands of extra residents to the area.
“The council felt that the location was quite sensitive and a further extension of a building could result in an overflow effect on other properties,” McKitrick said.
“The raping and pillaging of the SCS (Surf Coast Shire) continues,” says Maurice. “VCAT’s conclusion in approving the permits is just developer bullshit…I’m not happy with the decision as it creates a precedent for more development.”
Nik Strong-Cevitch, from Save The Waves, a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting coastal ecosystems around the world, says issues of coastal development can be a “double-edged sword.”
“I'd say surfing has been complicit in a lot of coastal tourism development. Generally, poorly planned, and over-development of coastlines tends to disrupt natural coastal systems,” he begins, “However, the other edge of the sword is that when tourism is properly managed it can offer alternative economic benefits to locals that don't damage ecosystems. I.e managing a surf lodge in Indo is generally better than dynamite fishing the reefs – an extreme example but you get the point."
In the case of the Bells Beach development, however, he struggles to see a positive.
“In general there are a real and growing lack of surf locations in open, natural spaces. There are also only a few places in the world where that open space is effectively managed (Manu Bay, Trestles, Noosa etc), and Bells is one of them,” he says.
“As the first Surfing Reserve, it has been a model for effective surf protection and management, and it seems to put an additional development in, it is a bit of slippery slope toward more development.”
2016 marked a mixed year in the battle between developers, big business, and those seeking to preserve the coast. In Doughmore Ireland, Donald Trump’s plan to build a seawall (for the sake of a golf course) that would have destroyed one of the country’s most popular beach breaks was defeated. In that case an online petition with some hundred thousand signatures proved an effective deterrent.
In South Australia petroleum giant, BP were forced to abandon plans to drill for oil in one of the world's most rugged and untouched stretches of coast, the Great Australian Bight, off Australia’s southern coast. The decision came on the back of a large public and political backlash, and three separate rejections of BP’s proposals by the Australian regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
In Southern California, a 15-year battle to prevent a six-lane toll road that threatened the waves at Trestles was defeated after several lawsuits were aimed at the project by a host of environmental coalitions. Last year also saw the declaration of a World Surfing Reserve at the southern end of the Gold Coast - an area running from Burleigh Heads to the Superbank. The move was hailed as a significant step in preventing any future plans to develop the area, such as the proposed cruise ship terminal for Kirra and Bilinga which was thwarted in 2014 following a negative community reaction led by the likes of three-time world champ Mick Fanning. Political strong-arming led by Gold Coast Mayor, Tom Tate, however, forced South Stradbroke and the Spit - two world class waves at the northern end of the Gold Coast - to be dropped from the Gold Coast's World Surf Reserve bid.
"Behind Mayor Tate is a great number of international developers, consortiums, a Chinese Port company, many of the chamber of commerce people along the coast, and many people who believe success and progress is defined by cranes in the sky and concrete on the ground," Luke Sorensen, of the Save Our Spit campaign group told Stab.
In Bali, the fight to save the world-class righthand reef break of Nikkos was lost. A break wall erected to preserve the foreshore of a resort has ruined the wave.
“They made the jetty for some rich people, it’s fucked up,” fumed elder Indonesian surfing statesman and longtime ripper, Dede Suryana. “They do whatever they want; they don’t think about other people. It’s bad. It's really destroying the place.”
Local leaders, including the surfing priest, Mega Semahdi and groups such as Project Surf Uluwatu, have pledged to get it torn down. In Chile local and international community groups remain locked in a battle with developers to ensure the coastal environment and access to the world-class waves of Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos are preserved.
A look at the history of waves already destroyed by human development makes for grim reading. In 2005 Harry’s, a world class slabbing right-hander in Northern Baja, Mexico, was destroyed after the Shell-Sempra Oil Company built a giant liquid natural gas terminal there. Back in 1965, Killer Dana, a once-reeling point break of some 500 yards that handled the biggest swells of the summer was destroyed by the construction of Dana Point harbour. In 2013, Bastion Point, one of the best waves in Victoria, Australia was destroyed by a jetty and boat ramp constructed through the break.
“Tourism,” says legendary Californian pro Taylor Knox, “is winning over any kind of beach rights. At the end of the day, it’s all about money.”
Strong-Cevitch, from Save The Waves, says the best way to fight back is “to be prepared”
“If the EIS (environmental impact statement) is released, then look at it and take the time to comment publicly. If this stuff is not your bag, then check in with a local group to get the scoop; Save The Waves on an international scale, Surfrider in US and the EU, Surfers Against Sewage in the UK. These are all good groups to be linked in with and can help you strategize the correct actions to take,” he said.